HOW DIGESTION WORKS
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© July 2016, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
To live, every day our bodies must take in food and then break it down into its basic components. It must absorb the nutrients, and then put the nutrients back together to form all of our body tissues.
This is a hard job, and one of the most important tasks our bodies perform each day. It involves a series of critical steps, all of which must work right for us to be healthy and happy. This article is an explanation of how digestion works.
Digestion very weak today. In most people today, digestion is very weak. The reasons are:
1. Nutritional deficiencies.
2. Toxic conditions such as too many toxic metals and toxic chemicals in the body.
3. eating irritating and even poisonous food.
4. Improper eating habits such as overeating, eating standing up, eating while driving, drinking liquids with meals, eating too many food combinations, eating too fast, not chewing enough, eating when upset, and eating while talking on the telephone.
6. An autonomic nervous system imbalance called Sympathetic Dominance.
Strengthening digestion. This is one of the primary goals of all nutritional balancing programs. It always takes a few years, and sometimes longer. Anyone who says it can be done faster, in my view, is not really correcting it at deep levels.
STEP 1. DIGESTION BEGINS IN THE MOUTH
Chew your food at least 20 times for healthy digestion. Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing. Chewing mechanically breaks down food, and mixes it with several starch-digesting enzymes.
This is why bolting your food, or not chewing thoroughly, is a very bad habit and always leads to malnutrition. Only the mouth has teeth to mechanically tear apart the food.
Many people do not realize that some food components including some vitamins and minerals, sugars and others, can be absorbed directly from the mouth into the body.
Chewing each bite at least two dozen times or so is most helpful for good health. It may feel odd at first, but it quickly becomes a healthful habit.
An excellent weight loss method. Chewing your food at least two dozen times each bite is also a simple and very healthful way to eat less and lose weight. Everyone else will be on their second or third portion and you will still be on your first portion. If you chew your food two dozen times, you will also feel full a lot faster.
If you absolutely cannot chew food thoroughly for some reason, then puree your food with a hand blender. This device is not too costly, and looks like a large stick with a motor at one end and a blade at the other end. The reason I suggest it rather than a blender is that one need not add water to the food, as is needed if one uses a blender. Adding water to food dilutes the mouth and stomach enzymes and prevents proper digestion.
STEP #2. DIGESTION IN THE STOMACH
From the mouth, food passes down a tube, the esophagus, into the stomach. Here, the food is mixed with powerful acids and other chemical enzymes such as pepsin, trypsin and chmotrypsin.
The stomach is designed to handle these powerful chemicals, which further digest your food. Digestion should have begun in the mouth, and it continues here. While the mouth is helpful to break down starches, the stomach is very important to digest proteins. They are torn apart chemically, breaking them down into polypeptides and some isolated amino acids. Starch digestion from the mouth also continues in the stomach, but less intensely.
The stomach also mechanically churns the food and thoroughly mixes it with the acid and the enzymes, just like in a chemical factory. The stomach also stores the food so that it enters the small intestines slowly and surely, and only when it is digested enough.
Eating simple meals makes digestion in the stomach and elsewhere much easier. I suggest eating only one or at most two types of food per meal.
I suggest eating one or more vegetables at every meal, and this counts as one type of food. This may be all you eat. However, you could add a second type of food – either one starch or one protein food.
Do not eat more than this, as it is hard on digestion. It is like asking your body to break down many chemicals at the same time, and this is much harder for everyone.
Digestive aids. In addition, I suggest everyone take a digestive aid containing ox bile and pancreatin with each meal. This further enhances digestion, and most everyone needs all this help to get enough nutrition out of our food today.
For best digestion, do not drink any liquids with meals. This includes milk, nut milks, carrot juice or even soup water. Drinking more than a few sips of water or tea with meals dilutes the powerful stomach chemicals and makes the stomach less able to digest your food. Drink your water one hour or more after meals, and up to about 15 minutes before meals only.
A few sips of water are okay to take your supplements, but that is all. If you drink a large glass of water to swallow your supplements, try to change this and learn to get by with just a small amount of water.
Water. However, water is needed in the body, so be sure you drink two to three quarts or liters, or about 96 ounces of water daily – preferably natural spring water or carbon-only filtered tap water.
Do not drink soda pop, coffee, Kool aid, Gatorade, nut milks, regular milk, or any sugary drinks, reverse osmosis water, or alcohol. These make digestion much worse.
For best digestion, separate your meals by 4-5 hours. Also, if possible, do not snack. This allows the stomach to empty thoroughly between meals, and to rest and rebuild itself.
Stomach pain. Many people report stomach pain after eating. The usual causes are eating the wrong foods, overeating, too many kinds of food at a meal, not chewing enough, drinking water with the meal, eating irritating foods, or not eating relaxed, sit-down, quiet meals.
Step #3. DIGESTION IN THE SMALL INTESTINE
One to three hours after one eats, partially digested food passes from the stomach into the small intestines.
Bile and pancreatic enzymes. Bile from the liver and digestive enzymes from the pancreas are soon added to the food mixture.
These secretions add more digestive enzymes to the food mixture to complete the digestive process. The new enzymes help do the following:
1. Fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerine.
2. Starches are broken down into simple sugars
3. Proteins are broken down into amino acids.
This is the essence of digestion!
The digestion process continues as the food winds its way through about 30 feet of small intestine. This is where most digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place.
The flora. The small intestine is home to a myriad of bacteria that ideally greatly assist the digestion process. These together are called the intestinal flora or microbiome.
Sadly, in most people, the intestinal flora is either incorrect, or mainly missing. This causes symptoms such as gas, bloating, stomach and intestinal cramps, smelly bowel movements, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
Reasons why the intestinal flora is incorrect or weak in most people are:
- Toxins in the food that kills the proper bacteria. This can be antibiotic residues found in meat and dairy products. It can also be pesticide residues found in all types of food. It can also be residues of medical drugs that are in food and in our water supplies today. It can also be toxic chemical additives in prepared foods.
Most governments stupidly allow over 3000 of these chemicals to be added to prepared foods. Stay away from all of them if you want good, strong digestion.
- Improper food, such as sugar, sweets, or too much meat. These dietary errors feed aberrant “bugs” in the small and large intestines that crowd out the good ones.
Infected or contaminated food. This sometimes introduces the wrong bacteria into your intestines. Please do not eat a lot of raw food, and never eat spoiled food. Always wash all food thoroughly to remove surface bacteria and parasites. Cooking food helps a lot to avoid most poisons found on and in foods.
A low level of digestive enzymes. This permits harmful organisms to survive in your body, and impairs proper digestion, as well.
Impaired body chemistry such as too much copper in the body. This damages the acidity, and other features of the environment in the intestines. It is very common and often causes the wrong “bugs” to grow in the intestines.
Taking antibiotics, and perhaps other medical and over-the-counter drugs like Aspirin, Tylenol, Aleve, Excedrin and many others. These chemicals either kill the normal “bugs”, or damage them in some way. They can severely impair digestion.
Antibiotics are often the worst, and are not needed, in my experience. Please use natural methods to fight infections, instead. To learn about how to handle infections, read Boosting Your Immunity and Beyond Antibiotics on this site.
Antibiotic residues are now found in many city water supplies, and in some foods such as commercial meats and some dairy products because they are fed to cows and chickens.
Infections in the intestines such as parasites, viruses, or yeast problems. These either kill off or upset the proper bacteria that should be in the intestine. They go away, in most cases, when you eat properly, rest enough, and balance your body chemistry with a nutritional balancing program.
I do not recommend using drugs, herbs or other supplements to kill parasites and infections in the intestine. I find these unnecessary, in almost all cases. The trouble is they often leave the body more toxic, and they can damage the intestine, as well as the bad bugs.
Rarely, but only rarely, the problem is that a person needs to ingest the right bugs to replenish the supply in the intestines. This is done by taking a probiotic supplement or by eating fermented foods. Probiotics are tablets, capsules or liquids that are loaded with the good bugs.
Fermented foods include sauerkraut, miso, cheese, yogurt or kefir. Butter is also a somewhat fermented food. I do not recommend the other fermented foods. For details as to why not, read Fermented Foods on this site.
Absorption of nutrients. The final step in digestion in the small intestine is the absorption of nutrients. This is discussed later after we discuss the appendix and the large intestine.
STEP #4. THE APPENDIX AND LARGE INTESTINE
After food passes through the small intestine, it goes through a valve called the ilio-cecal valve into the large intestine or colon. Very close to this valve is a small gland called the appendix.
The appendix. The function of the appendix is somewhat of a mystery in modern medical care. However, it is really not very mysterious. It secretes chemicals that further help digest food. Rarely, the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with bacteria that the body is unable to remove. If it is very infected, one must have surgery to remove it quickly or it can burst, spreading germs throughout the abdomen. Fortunately, in the past 100 years or so, surgery was developed and removal of the appendix is not a difficult operation, in most cases.
NOTE: During a nutritional balancing program, usually within the first year on the program, several clients have had a flare-up of pain in the appendix. Those who called me were saved from an operation.
In all cases, it was just a retracing reaction, and not appendicitis. However, it is important to know that this type of retracing or healing reaction can occur, and feels just like appendicitis.
THE LARGE INTESTINE
The large intestine or colon is about two feet long and is a thick tube of tissue that starts in the lower right corner of your abdomen. It runs straight up the right side of the abdomen to the bottom of the ribs, and then it makes a sharp 90-degree turn.
Then it goes across the belly, underneath the belly button, roughly, and over to the bottom of the ribs on the left side of the abdomen. Then it makes another 90-degree turn downwards on the left side of the body. It goes straight down, more or less, and ends in the rectum and anus.
Functions of the large intestine. These are:
1. To finish up incomplete digestion of your food
2. To absorb some nutrients, although most are absorbed in the small intestine.
3. To absorb all the water in the stool so it converts to a semi-solid bowel movement. This mostly contains undigestible vegetable matter called roughage or fiber. It also contains some dead bacteria and other chemicals the body does not want to absorb.
Waste removal. This step is not about digesting food too much , although some vitamins, in particular, can be made and absorbed in the large intestine. Most important, it is about getting rid of the waste products of the food and digestion process.
Specifics about some of these are discussed later in this article.
The water or fluid. This is recycled into the body, if everything works right. However, if too much water is absorbed, or the food sits too long in the colon, you will become constipated. If not enough water is absorbed, you will have diarrhea, or watery stools.
The most diseased organ in many people. The large intestine is one of the most diseased organs in most people today. The reasons why are:
Drinking too little water and/or the wrong kinds of water. This is a big cause of constipation. The large intestine can become stretched, saggy and infected due to constipation. See Constipation on this site.
I recommend adults drink two to three quarts or liters daily of either carbon-only filtered tap water, or preferably natural spring water. All other types of water are not as good for hydrating the body, in my experience.
Fatigue and stress of every kind. All stress tends to affect the digestive system. The large intestine is particularly sensitive to stress, which tends to slow or even stop its activity. This is a major cause of constipation and other problems such as irritable bowel syndrome
Hurried lifestyles and not heeding the call to evacuate. This also stresses the colon.
Not enough fiber in the diet. The usual cause for this is eating refined white flour products and white rice. This can cause constipation and can cause a buildup of slimy material in the walls of the colon.
When some people do enemas or a series of colon hydrotherapy sessions, some people eliminate up to 10 pounds of impacted fecal material that was just sitting inside of them, making them fat and sick.
Nested inside this material are often yeast colonies, bacteria colonies, and often round worms or other parasites.
Chemicals added to many foods, especially refined and prepared food items. Some of these, such as sugars, are quite harmful for the large intestine and cause the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms.
Improper flora in the colon, which is the same as harmful bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections. These are common, especially if you eat mainly raw food, which I do not recommend. Traveling to nations that are not too clean is another way to get parasites. Raw fish, sushi, and not washing food thoroughly is another way to pick up these infections.
Unfortunately, eating any pig products can also cause parasitic infections, even if it is thoroughly cooked. Some will disagree with this, but this is my experience.
Medical drugs and over-the-counter remedies. Some of these damage the large intestine. Again, among the worst for the colon are antibiotics, which often damage or destroy the natural intestinal bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to multiply and take over.
Many medical drugs also slow bowel activity or irritate the sensitive lining of the intestines. Diuretic drugs can remove too much water from the bowel and cause constipation. Vitamin tablets with iron can also irritate the intestines.
Nervous tenstion. This is also not good for the large intestine.
Colon cleansing. Colon health is so important today that I suggest doing one to four daily coffee retention enemas. This may sound dirty or painful, but they are not that unpleasant and well worth the trouble. You must follow the procedure given on this website.
When done properly, these are safe and not habit-forming, as some doctors claim. They also do not dehydrate the body or remove the beneficial bacteria from the colon.
Coffee enemas not only clean the colon, but also help remove many poisons from the liver and have at least 10 other healing effects. For more on this excellent procedure, read Coffee Enemas on this site. Many clients tell me that coffee enemas “saved their lives”.
DIGESTION VERSUS PUTREFACTION, ROTTING AND FERMENTATION
Excellent digestion is the most important single process needed for health besides rest and sleep. However, most people have very poor digestion today, even though one may have no symptoms of it at all.
Instead of digesting their food, most of their food either rots, putrefies or ferments. Let us compare these chemical processes that go on inside the body:
Digestion. This is a process whereby food is acted upon mechanically by chewing and then chemically by acids and enzymes in the intestines. As a result, the food is broken down into simpler chemical compounds.
For example, protein is broken into its amino acids. Fats are broken into fatty acids. Starches and sugars are broken down to simple sugars.
Putrefaction. This is a chemical process in which proteins from food are changed by certain intestinal bacteria into very toxic chemical substances. Among the chemicals are cadaverine, indol and skatol. Toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide are also produced.
A small amount of putrefaction is tolerable and
common, but more is very harmful and toxic for the body.
Causes for putrefaction include eating too much protein at one time, insufficient chewing, bad food combinations, deficiencies of digestive enzymes such as trypsin and chymotrypsin, improper pH of the intestinal tract, and the presence of incorrect flora in the intestinal tract.
Rotting. This is similar to putrefaction. However, it occurs in the absence of putrefying bacteria. Instead, other bacteria destroy the food improperly. This is what happens if you leave an egg or a piece of meat in the open air for a few days.
The distinction between rotting and putrefying is not great, and the words are often used interchangeably. However, technically they are not the same.
Fermentation. This is a chemical process in which yeast organisms change sugars into methane gas, alcohol, vinegar, acetaldehyde and other toxic substances. This is extremely common, especially in slow oxidizers.
Candida albicans is the
most common fermenting organism in most people, and it is found everywhere. A healthy body will not support it, but
if there is a copper imbalance, the body cannot get rid of it. Other yeasts may be involved as well.
The odor of the bowel movement. Bowel movements should not smell too bad. Babies who are breastfed, for example, usually have mild-smelling stools, as do healthy adults.
However, putrefaction and fermentation cause bad odors, along with gas, bloating, stomach pain and other symptoms in many people. Fermentation cause a fairly mild smell and often some gas. Putrefaction produces a very foul-smelling stool.
THE ABSORPTION OF NUTRIENTS
While digestion may seem simple, in fact it is incredibly complex. Somehow the body knows which of the thousands of chemicals in food that it needs. It is able, when healthy, to sift through the food and absorb the nutrients, while rejecting the many chemical poisons. These are eliminated as the feces.
Most of the nutrients are absorbed from the small intestine, though some absorption occurs in the mouth, and in the large intestine as well.
The role of the liver. A key to digestion is that all the blood from the intestinal tract goes not to the body, at large, but directly to the liver. The liver is like the Supreme Court of the body. It decides which nutrients to keep, and which items are poisons that must be removed.
The liver is a truly amazing organ. It can sift through the absorbed material and it retains toxic chemicals, toxic metals and other toxins that have been absorbed in the intestines with the food.
The liver converts these to less toxic products, in most cases. These then pass out of the liver in the form of bile.
Interestingly, the bile is dumped back into the small intestine, and some of the poisons such as too much cholesterol, can be reabsorbed once again. However, in most cases, the liver has transformed the toxins so that the body somehow knows not reabsorb them. It is as though the liver “tags” the toxic metals and toxic chemicals in some way so they pass harmlessly out of the body in the feces.
The liver has many other functions, as well. It further breaks down some nutrients, transforms some amino acids into other chemicals the body needs, stores some sugars, and puts some chemicals together to form proteins, starches, fatty acids and millions of other chemicals we need to live.
Always love your liver! Never treat your liver badly by drinking alcohol or taking drugs or any poison. You are just ruining the most amazing organ in the body. It is also one of the more diseased organs in most people thanks to all the chemicals in our food and water. Anger also damages the liver.
Here are the basic steps:
1. Follow the nutritional balancing diets, and not others! This means eat whole, natural foods, preferably organically grown, and cook most food except a little dairy foods that may be eaten raw. This means do not eat salads, and do not eat fruit or fruit juices.
The only juice allowed is up to 10 ounces of carrot juice daily, or 1-2 ounces of wheat grass juice up to twice weekly, and have these away from meal time so as not to dilute the digestive juices.
Only have a maximum of one cup of coffee or tea daily, and no green tea. Do not have any smoothies, shakes, powders, or green superfoods.
Also avoid all nightshade vegetables and all nuts or seeds except for toasted almond butter. For many more details and the reasons for this diet, see the Slow Oxidizer Diet and other articles about foods and diet on this site.
2. Develop very good eating habits. Eat sit down meals, chew all food very thoroughly, eat meals 4-5 hours apart, do not skip meals, skip most snacks, drink no liquids with meals, and have pleasant conversation during meals.
Always eat simple food combinations: cooked vegetables with each meal, with either 1 starch or 1 protein food. The alternative, which is better, is to eat only one type of food per meal. This is the easiest to digest.
Also, do not eat on the run, standing up, in your car, or in noisy environments. Instead, learn to relax a lot, especially at mealtimes. Do not oversalt food and do not avoid all sea salt. Do not eat table salt and do not eat food that is very spicy.
3. Other. Heed the call of nature, use a red heat lamp on the abdomen daily, and ideally follow a complete nutritional balancing program. This will heal many digestive imbalances at a very deep level.